James Dulley: Recessed Lighting Can Be Efficient

outputComponent(2)Recessed lights remain the fixture of choice for overhead lighting. Some are more energy efficient than others. Efficient options can use 80 percent less electricity than ones that provide the same light and about the same appearance.

Recessed light fixtures penetrate and are mounted in the ceiling of a room. From an energy conservation standpoint, this is not an issue when installed in the first floor ceiling of a two-story house. However, if fixtures are installed in the second-story ceiling or the first floor ceiling of a one-story house, a hole is created between a conditioned living area and the open, unconditioned attic area.

Without an efficient design and proper installation, a recessed fixture allows conditioned air to leak out of the house. This is particularly true during winter when the warmer air inside naturally rises to the ceiling. This may create a draft in rooms where cold outdoor air leaks indoors.

Several new energy-efficient recessed light fixture designs meet Energy Star standards. All use fluorescent light sources instead of incandescent bulbs. This alone reduces electricity consumption by 75 percent. The inside surface is more reflective. Better reflectivity reduces the amount of light trapped and dissipated inside a fixture before ever getting into a room.

For fixtures in ceilings where indoor air leakage seems likely, select a new airtight design with a sealed canister. The sealed airtight recessed fixture canister, when installed properly, forms an airtight seal between the ceiling and the fixture. These fixtures are often used in ceilings beneath an unconditioned attic, but they are effective for unheated basement ceilings, minimizing drafts between floors.

If a recessed light fixture will be installed in a ceiling under an insulated attic floor, select an insulation contact-rated (IC) design. These are designed to touch insulation without overheating the fixture. When installing new non-IC fixtures, the insulation must be kept away from the canister. This insulation void increases heat loss from the room below even if the installation is airtight.

To brighten an entire room, downlighting can be effective. In a normal-height ceiling, a 4-foot spacing of recessed light fixtures provides an even lighting pattern at floor level. Typical 6-inch-diameter fluorescent fixed vertical fixtures work well for downlighting. If you want to dim some lights, consider installing a second circuit and dimmer switch with incandescent bulbs in those fixtures.

For task lighting, a single fixed vertical fixture directly over the work area is effective. Wall wash recessed lighting can accent a painting or wall hangings. An eyeball recessed light is best for this application because the light path can be adjusted. For a sloped cathedral ceiling, install an angular recessed fixture—preferably an IC model since it will be in contact with ceiling insulation.

It’s not difficult to install recessed light fixtures by yourself. Cut the mounting holes the exact size recommended by the manufacturer. This makes it easier to create a good seal between the fixture and the ceiling. Before drilling and cutting holes, make sure your fixture layout clears all of the floor joists.

The following companies offer efficient recessed fixtures:

Capri Lighting

Cooper Lighting

Juno Lighting


Sea Gull Lighting